One of the questions I've had about meditation is what is the actual essence of it? There's so many things out there that actually understanding can be very complicated and confusing process.
I'm going to talk about it from my experience rather that from what the ancient scriptures say.
There's a saying "are you patient enough to wait for the mud to settle" This is the whole essence of my meditation and from there it expands.
So what does it mean? For me meditation is taking the time to connect to my body and breath and allow the busyness of my mind to start to quieten by focusing on something. For me it's the breath or a mantra, but it can be anything that keeps your focus.
The busy chatter of my mind, and the busy energy in my body is like the silt in the river when the water is stirred up, its full of thoughts that aren't really relevant and mostly block and muddy the waters so I can't really see or feel what is true. If I focus on my breath for long enough, that silt starts to settle, my mind becomes less muddy! And I am left with the things that are important, a kind of clarity, my connection to the present.
I often notice that after meditation I remember things like a friends birthday or an important task, that maybe I had totally forgotten about because my mind was so full of the rubbish that 'gets in the way'.
But that's not the only benefit, because in that time I've taken to focus on something calming, I find that I have connected to the present and to love, fear has left my body, meaning my anxiety has dropped and I feel like I am secure once more. Sometimes this feeling lasts for only minutes, sometimes it lasts the whole day, but most importantly in that moment I remember that the rest is just a story I tell myself, that the truth is there, I just have to remember to connect to it.
In brief, meditation to me is a moment to let the shit of the outside go and to bring my focus and awareness within, to steady the internal ship and find a sense of calm.
Does my mind stop altogether? NO, this is a misconception and people often think they have failed at meditation if they are still thinking! What it does do is stop the chatter of unimportance and show me the sparkles of beauty that lay within.
Do I maintain total focus on my breath throughout? NO. This is part of the practice, a drawing back, noticing when the mind wanders, where does it wander to? But not getting so caught up with it, noticing that the stories and chatter are separate from the actual reality. Slowly over time the mind will wander less, but depending on whats happening the mind will still wander at times, the process of drawing back inwards means that you are connecting to the present to you, to that moment over and over again.
I will go into this more, but hopefully that's answered the question of what is meditation. To me is a moment of true calm in the day, a moment where I have full connection to ME.